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2022 NHL Winter Classic: What’s at stake, plus five players to watch from the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild

The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild are set for the 2022 NHL Winter Classic.
The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild are set for the 2022 NHL Winter Classic.((Winter Classic Graphic via AP, team logos via St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild, Stadium photo via KTTC))
Published: Jan. 1, 2022 at 8:00 AM CST
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MINNEAPOLIS (KY3) - What better way to ring in the new year than with a brisk outdoor hockey game?

The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild are set for the 2022 NHL Winter Classic. The division foes hit the ice for a premier outdoor hockey matchup at Target Field, the home ballpark of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins.

Puck drop is set for 6 p.m. Saturday. Hockey fans can watch the national broadcast on TNT.

Saturday marks the second time in six years that the Blues head outdoors for the NHL Winter Classic, a near-annual game since 2008 that traditionally marks the new calendar year. In 2017, the Blues hosted the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium, earning a 4-1 victory.

This time around, the Blues will serve as the road opponent. The Blues will return only three players from the 2017 Winter Classic lineup half of a decade ago, but six skaters who have joined since then have exeperience of at least one NHL outdoor hockey game.

For the Minnesota Wild, it’s the franchise’s first crack at a Winter Classic and second time hosting an outdoor game. The Wild previously hosted the Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium as part of the league’s outdoor stadium series in 2016, cruising to a 6-1 victory.

Thousands will pack Target Field for a chance to witness history, but perhaps not just in terms of the game play or outcome. Meteorologists are predicting temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit for the 2022 Winter Classic, which would break a record as the coldest contest in NHL history.

For perspective, the coldest NHL game on record came in the 2003 Heritage Classic, when the league held its first non-exhibition outdoor game in Canada. The Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens battled in temperatures just below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

While dealing with the unusual conditions, both teams are working to get back to speed after the COVID-19 pandemic and rising cases around the NHL forced lengthy breaks. The Blues returned to action Wednesday, Dec. 29, winning 4-2 over the Edmonton Oilers after a stretch of 10 days without games. Meanwhile, the Wild have not played since Dec. 20 and lost their latest game 7-4 to the Dallas Stars.

Nearly eight months separate the Blues and Wild from their last head-to-head matchup. In eight head-to-head games last year, all but one played in a span of five weeks due to pandemic-altered scheduling, the Blues dominated the series with six wins and outscored the Wild by 11 goals. St. Louis leads the all-time series with a record of 43-29-9. They also tied five times before the league phased out draws.

Above all, the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild clash with a division lead on the line. The winner will start the new year on top of the Central Division, a potential momentum-builder as both clubs look to hold off preseason favorites in the Colorado Avalanche.

Only hours away from the 2022 NHL Winter Classic, keep an eye on five key players from both squads.

RUSSIAN SENSATIONS

  • Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): Now a ten-year NHL veteran, Vladimir Tarasenko is arguably playing better than ever. Tarasenko is scoring at a point-per-game pace and carries a four-game goal streak into the new year. This could set the stage for another strong outdoor performance after Tarasenko tallied two goals in the 2017 NHL Winter Classic.
  • Kirill Kaprizov (MIN): One of the most dominant rookies from last season is right on cue as one of the most dominant sophomores this season. Kirill Kaprizov ranks seventh in the league with 37 points, and he boasts a strong 14.9 shooting percentage in his young career. Minnesota has secured 15 of its 19 wins during games that Kaprizov has produced at least one goal or assist.

EXPERIENCED VETS

  • Ryan O’Reilly (STL): It’s not his flashiest of seasons statistically, but Ryan O’Reilly is getting the job done. He is winning nearly 57 percent of faceoffs, a Top 10 clip in the league, while working heavy minutes on special teams. O’Reilly notched an assist in his only outdoor game four years ago, and he will be the second captain to represent the Blues in a Winter Classic.
  • Mats Zuccarello (MIN): The NHL’s only active Norwegian is no stranger to the outdoor hockey stage. Mats Zuccarello has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in three career NHL outdoor games, leading all skaters from both teams. At 34 years old, Zuccarello’s experience, speed and playmaking abilities set him apart in a Wild lineup abundant in defensive-minded forwards.

NOTABLE NETMINDERS

  • Jordan Binnington (STL): The only goalie to ever clinch a Stanley Cup for the St. Louis Blues will check off another bucket list item. Jordan Binnington has never played in an outdoor hockey game on an amateur or professional basis, but he is lining up to start the Winter Classic. Binnington will wear a special event-themed mask that pays tribute to two legendary Blues goalies with decals of Glenn Hall and Mike Liut.
  • Cam Talbot (MIN): Formerly beloved as “Goalbuster” on his previous teams, Cam Talbot has added much stability to a position that plagued the Wild in previous years. Minnesota surged to seven straight wins earlier this season, and Talbot impressed with a .954 save percentage during the streak. He is one of only four goalies with an outdoor game shutout, a feat he accomplished in the 2016 Heritage Classic with the Edmonton Oilers.

MINNESOTA NATIVES

  • Justin Faulk and Scott Perunovich (STL): A homecoming awaits for two “North Star State” natives and Minnesota-Duluth products. Justin Faulk and Scott Perunovich play key roles on the Blues defense and occasionally work on the same pairing. Faulk will be tasked to set tone defensively with hits and blocked shots, while Perunovich is still seeking his first goal after prolific scoring stretches in the minor leagues. Another Minnesota native, Charlie Lindgren, could suit up as the Blues backup goalie to Jordan Binnington.
  • Alex Goligoski and Nick Bjugstad (MIN): The Wild’s two Minnesota natives combine for 15 years of experience. Alex Goligoski, a former Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has enjoyed a late-career resurgence with 20 points in 27 games. He is gearing up for his first Winter Classic, while fellow Minnesotan, Nick Bjugstad, sets sights on his second NHL outdoor game.

The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild take spotlight for the 32nd outdoor game and 13th Winter Classic contest in NHL history. For a closer look at key numbers heading into the 2022 NHL Winter Classic, CLICK HERE.

Happy New Year, hockey fans! Enjoy the Winter Classic!

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